Online Bible Commentary
A Death Sentence
Romans 1:26 For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. 27 Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due. 28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, 30 backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; 32 who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them. (NKJV)
The Apostle Paul wrote this letter in AD 56-57 from Corinth, Greece. He stayed in Corinth for three months, December, AD 56-February, AD 57, the winter months on the Mediterranean Sea. He was waiting for Spring, when the waterways would be reopened and he could sail back to Jerusalem.
Paul was writing this letter to the Christians in Rome, with the expectation that it would be distributed to all of the first century churches. Rome was the famous capitol of the ancient world.
Paul is writing to the Christians in Rome, Gentiles and Jews, all of whom had converted to Christianity. The believers were not mature believers, likely not having the benefit of Paul’s teachings.
The context of this letter is that it comes upon the heels of Paul’s issue with the Corinthians as expressed in Second Corinthians. The Corinthians had fallen under the spell of false teachers.
Paul did not want this to happen to the less mature believers in Rome. So, this letter is very doctrinal in its nature, along the lines of systematic theology.
Paul began this letter with three introductions. He introduced himself, the Gospel, and Jesus Christ, in that order.
After the introductions, Paul begins the letter, as was the custom in ancient times, by offering a prayer. Paul prays for his coming visit to Rome. He prays for safe travel, the visit itself and gives us the essence of the Gospel, the good news that “the just will live by faith” (v. 17)
In the previous passage, Paul completes his prayer. He gives us the other side of the coin, the unjust, those who reject the Gospel, who reject Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
He writes that at some point, as non-Christians continue to reject God, He will give them what they want. He will give them over to their sinful hearts resulting in all kinds of lusts, including sexual immorality, because they have exchanged the truth of God for a lie. They have worshiped and served the created things rather than the Creator.
Now, in this passage, Paul elaborates on the behavior of those who reject God. He launches into a whole litany of sins in which these unbelievers, these non-Christians, indulge. He refers to these sins as “vile passions” (v. 26a).
Paul defines the homosexual act as “against nature…shameful” which brings about “penalty of their error which was due” (vv. 26b-27). This penalty, which is due, may manifest itself in human consequences of our actions, such as disease, personality changes, relationship issues, etc.
God is just. He does not penalize us for actions that we are unable to control. Everyone possesses humanity and, therefore, is predisposed to one sin or another. But we sin only when we act on that predisposition.
Paul continues by writing that “God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting” (v. 28). The “debased mind”, comes from the action of continuing to reject God. The use of the words “to do” confirms that the sin is in the action and not in the temptation. Jesus, in His humanity, was tempted but never gave into temptation, remaining sinless.
Paul lists many other sins in verses 29-31. These sins are; “29 unrighteousness (injustice), sexual immorality (any sex outside of marriage between one man and one woman), wickedness (active evil), covetousness (greediness), maliciousness (thinking the worst of people or things); full of envy (jealousy), murder (not in war), strife (wrangling), deceit (cunning, treachery), evil-mindedness (hostility, bitterness); they are whisperers (gossips), 30 backbiters (speaking evil of others), haters of God, violent (physical violence, insults), proud (arrogance), boasters (braggards), inventors of evil things (thinking up evil actions), disobedient to parents, 31 undiscerning (senseless), untrustworthy (breaking promises), unloving (without tenderness, disregarding natural ties and obligations), unforgiving, unmerciful (cruel, vindictive)”.
These people know “the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death” (v. 32a), The word “practice” denotes a habitual action versus a mistake. The Greek word, translated here for death, is “thanatos”, which can mean human death, spiritual death, or both.
In closing Paul has a warning for us all. He writes “not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them” (v. 32b). This death sentence is not just upon all those who practice sin, but also upon those who approve, or support, sin.
The good news is that a death sentence is not permanent. We can live eternally in Heaven when we stop rejecting God. We do this by accepting Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, asking His forgiveness for our sins, and repenting, turning away from future sin.